Music review: Arab exoticism marks quartet concert
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | April 29,2013
The Borromeo String Quartet performed to a packed Unitarian Church on Saturday in Montpelier.
MONTPELIER — The Unitarian Church was packed to capacity Saturday evening to hear a string quartet perform – and a world premiere featuring Montpelier flutist Karen Kevra.
They weren’t disappointed. In Capital City Concerts’ penultimate concert of the 2012-13 season, Boston’s Borromeo String Quartet offered a compelling performance of a Dvorak quartet, and New York-based Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s quintet for flute and string quartet proved exotic and downright intriguing.
“Teta” (Arabic for grandmother), commissioned by Capital City Concerts, is a three-movement work intended to reflect the Arab-American immigrant experience. The opening “Folktune/Flashback” employs an Arabic maqam modal scale (with different intervals than the traditional Western scale) with the ensemble playing in octaves in a sing-song style. With piccolo substituted for flute, it sounded like a raucous but happy Arab party.
“On Leaving/The Journey” opens with a prolonged flute solo, modal and quietly rhythmic, and then is joined by the strings in a quiet journey mixing modal and Western harmonies. Suddenly there is an explosion of raw sounds from all, but this subsides to the quiet journey, only to happen all over again.
“Putting It Together” opens with another prolonged flute solo, this in a bright Western tonality, which proves to be the theme for a five-part fugue creating a “fabric” or “tapestry.” At this first performance, the movement seemed overlong, yet its tonal quality was beautiful.
The performance itself was impassioned. Kevra used her expressive sound to ply the exotic lines, while the Borromeo – in a decidedly secondary role – complemented with rich sounds delivered sensitively. This is a work that would benefit from repeated listening.
The Borromeo really proved itself in Antonin Dvorak’s monumental String Quartet in G Major, Opus 106. Passionately lyrical would best describe the quartet’s approach and it resulted in a truly compelling performance. The Adagio, the slow movement, was particularly touching as the players really sang with their instruments. It was a grand performance of a grand work.
Less successful was Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16 in F Major, Opus 135, one of the Late Quartets. First violinist Nicolas Kitchen’s often slightly off intonation clashed with the others, giving it a raucous quality and diminishing its cohesiveness. Still, this was a passionate and deeply felt performance by experts.
Ironically, the encore, the Scherzo from Beethoven’s Opus, 18, No. 6 (Early) Quartet, was played with a light touch, precise and charming. It was gorgeous.
Capital City Concerts
To close its 2012-13 season, Capital City Concerts will present violinist Rachel Barton Pine, with pianist Matthew Hagle, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1 (postponed from Feb. 9), at Montpelier’s Unitarian Church, 130 Main St., in music by Beethoven, Strauss, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz. Tickets are $25-$10; go online to www.capitalcityconcerts.org, or to Bear Pond Books in Montpelier.